Perdue did not write USDA budget | TheFencePost.com

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Perdue did not write USDA budget

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue defended the Trump administration's proposals for massive monetary and personnel cuts in the Agriculture Department, but Michael Young, the USDA chief budget officer who is acting deputy secretary, told reporters that Perdue did not participate in its writing.

In a video to USDA personnel and in a call to reporters, Perdue said the budget had been in development for months before he was confirmed.

"There is no sugarcoating what we will face," he said in the video. "USDA will likely see a significant reduction in funding by the time this process is complete."

Perdue added, "This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone as the president promised before his election that he would realign government spending, attempt to eliminate duplication or redundancy, and see that all government agencies are efficiently delivering services to our customers, the taxpayers of America."

Perdue turned most of the briefing over to Young.

Asked by a reporter whether Perdue had much to say about the budget, Young responded, "No, the secretary was not confirmed when this budget was put together."

Young also repeatedly told reporters that USDA civil servants had provided technical input, but that the policies within the budget are consistent with the administration's package of proposals to eliminate the budget deficit in 10 years.

Asked about the elimination of international food aid programs, Young said the proposal was "consistent with the overall administration policy of 'America First.'"

Asked for the policy rationale behind cutting crop insurance programs by a total of $29 billion over 10 years, Young replied, "This is all part of an overall package of budget proposals that is geared at getting the budget to balance in 10 years as well as looking out for the interest of taxpayers."

The 2018 request for discretionary budget authority to fund programs and operating expenses is about $21 billion, approximately $4.8 billion below 2017, the budget document says.

This includes funding for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Rural Development, Forest Service, food safety, research and conservation activities. Funding for mandatory programs is estimated to be $116 billion, about $7 billion below 2017.

But these reductions are minor compared to the proposals to eliminate many programs over the coming years. Young noted that these proposed cuts would have to be in the form of legislation sent to Capitol Hill for Congress to consider.

The last section of the 96-page USDA budget document includes lists of the programs the Trump administration wants to eliminate.

In addition to cuts to crop insurance and introducing means test for both crop insurance and farm programs, the changes that the administration proposes range from asking the states to pay for 25 percent of benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to the elimination of the Market Assistance Program and the Foreign Market Development Program that farm groups use to increase sales overseas to the closure of 17 Agricultural Research Service facilities.

The budget also proposes to cut 5,263 USDA staff, a 5 percent reduction in personnel, Young said. Perdue said that he would try to accomplish the reduction through attrition, early retirement and "other less disruptive means."

Perdue is scheduled to testify before the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee today and before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee in June, Young said.

To download the fiscal year 2018 budget summary, go to https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/USDA-Budget-Summary-2018.pdf.